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SWITZERLAND: Police Ward Off Protesters at World Economic Forum

by Alan CowellNew York Times
January 26th, 2003

DAVOS, Switzerland -- While participants in the World Economic Forum here debated the consequences of a possible war in Iraq, police officers with tear-gas grenades and water cannons mounted a huge security operation to keep protesters away from the delegates, who included Secretary of State Colin Powell.

At the railroad junction of Landquart, about 25 miles down the road from Davos, antiwar and antiglobalization protesters, some hiding their faces with ski masks and goggles, pelted the police with snowballs after the authorities refused to allow them to travel to Davos unimpeded. Police officers lobbed tear-gas canisters after protesters fired flares. German police officers reinforced the Swiss by firing water cannons into small knots of demonstrators.

At Fideris, halfway between Davos and Landquart, another standoff developed after a group of protesters who said they believed they had struck a deal with the police were ordered off Alpine railroad cars at a barrier and refused to submit to security checks.

In Davos, about 1,000 protesters who had agreed to stringent security checks, some dressed in suits woven with euro bills, beat makeshift globes with sticks to protest the process of globalization, of which the World Economic Forum, with its assembly of executives and political leaders, has become an emblem.

"Wipe out WEF," some chanted, using the organization's acronym. Others held up banners: "No Business over Dead Bodies" and "Leave Iraq in peace, stop the Bush warriors."

The authorities are spending $10 million to protect the 2,000 forum participants.

Officially, demonstrators have been given permission to protest here. But hundreds of police officers, backed by 300 soldiers, blocked off streets to prevent the protesters from approaching the forum's venue -- a concrete congress center that bears more than a passing resemblance to a military bunker.

Fearing possible terrorist attacks, the Swiss authorities have also threatened to shoot down any unauthorized aircraft over Davos during the gathering. About 20 presidents and prime ministers along with senior government officials and top executives are attending the forum.

Within the congress center, participants focused more on the likely consequences of a U.S. attack on Iraq. Powell and King Abdullah II of Jordan are both set to address the gathering today, on the eve of a critical Monday deadline for U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq to report their findings.

One concern has been that fears of a war, which have already sent stock markets tumbling, will also sustain high oil prices, currently at a two-year record. But the Saudi oil minister, Ali Naimi, said there was no shortage of oil on world markets "and there should be no reason for prices where they are today."

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